The Theatre School > Conservatory > Undergraduate Conservatory > Acting

BFA Acting

Two acting students rehearsing together

The Theatre School’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree in acting prepares actors to work on both stage and screen. It develops actors who are imaginative, skillful, expressive and vibrantly alive. It is rooted in the Chicago tradition, emphasizing physicality, truth in action, communication, collaboration and spontaneity. The first year introduces the actor to a broad range of techniques and experiences, defines a way of working and provides a set of skills. The next three years focus on developing and refining this way of working—adding skills and technique—while helping each actor discover and apply those which work best for him or her.

Students learn from a distinguished and award-winning faculty of working professionals who possess a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise. Our faculty has spent many years developing successful, personal and powerful curricula that incorporate ideas from Stanislavski, Spolin, Johnstone, Shurtleff, Meisner, Bogart, Lessac, Linklater, Yoga, Tai Chi, Feldenkrais®, Laban, mask work, and more. Students are inspired through unique points-of-view within a comprehensive four-year progression of acting, movement, and voice and speech curriculum.

Equally important to the training students receive in the classroom is the opportunity they have to synthesize and practice what they’ve learned in production, with each student completing productions assignments—typically one each quarter—over their three years in the Production Phase of the program.

The Theatre School admits a diverse acting pool and encourages applicants inclusive of all gender and sexual identities and expressions, including their intersection with racial and ethnic identities, as well as the multiplicity of identities in our ever-evolving society. For more information on how The Theatre School strives for equity, diversity, and inclusion, read our diversity action statement.

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Structured as a one-year acting intensive, the first year is about exploration - not only of the craft of acting, but more importantly, the self exploration of each actor's imagination, impulses, voice and physicality. Acting course work is focused on improvisation and truth in action. Actors learn to communicate a theatrical reality both with and without a text. The year culminates in a showing allowing the actors to synthesize and demonstrate their developing technique. Movement courses focus on helping actors explore their bodies and expand their range of movement through yoga-based and impulse and expression-based movement. The focus in the voice and speech curriculum is on freeing the natural voice toward greater psycho-physical connection and improved self-awareness, imagination, expressiveness and embodiment.

The second year acting curriculum focuses on helping actors build solid technique. Acting course work emphasizes contemporary scene study and text analysis - the given circumstances of the playwright's theatrical reality and how to embody and communicate it. Movement work focuses on greater awareness and understanding of how actors use their body through Feldenkrais®-based and contemporary style exploration. The focus of the voice and speech curriculum is to work on refining the actors' use of their voices through deepening their experience of resonance and its placement in the body along with clarifying vowel and consonant articulation for the purpose of experiencing language as a physical act of expression. Students also take courses in stage combat and stage makeup to prepare them for their production work. Second year actors are cast into their own production season called Introduction to Performance ("Intros") - three full-length productions mounted in studio spaces, directed by the faculty or professional guest directors.

The third year of training emphasizes working with classical texts and heighten language. Using plays by Shakespeare and other classical playwrights, third-year actors join the emotional, physical and imaginative life of the role with the technical skills needed to express that character to its fullest. This is achieved through rigorous foundation work and applying the basic tenets of acting to the acting of plays in verse: making strong choices that are grounded in the text, establishing a connection to the scene partner, listening and responding to the given circumstances and to what is happening in the scene. Students work closely with the instructors to develop their physical and vocal instruments to meet the demands of the material and integrate the work done in all classes, bringing transformative performance energy to inhabit the scope and size of classical text. Movement continues to refine actors' technique but also focuses on inhabiting the world of the play. Work in the voice and speech curriculum is linked to the work on heightened language and includes increasing the range of the actors' capacity to embody and clarify action through their speaking. Actors are encouraged to use tools including phonetics and dialects to increase self-sufficiency and personal practice of their work. Third and fourth year actors make up the Acting Company. Each student in the Acting Company auditions for our public production season and will perform in 4-5 productions over the course of the last two years of the program. Our public season is a mix of contemporary, classical, children's theatre, musicals and new works mounted in a variety of spaces from the Merle Reskin Theatre (our 1,300 seat proscenium stage) to very intimate studio spaces.

The final year of the program focuses on preparing actors for the transition to the profession with a wider variety of coursework focused on helping actors integrate what they have been learning in the three previous years. Acting coursework involves advanced scene study, ensemble development and creation, solo performance (an elective), film and television acting and audition preparation. Movement coursework includes a return to impulse and expression-based movement and African dance. Voice and speech coursework explores singing for musical theatre and voiceover technique. Students also take courses focused on the business aspects of the profession which include marketing themselves as actors and working with talent agents and casting directors. Fourth year actors continue in the Acting Company for casting assignments in our public season and participate in the Graduate Showcase during the spring academic quarter. 

Under the guidance of faculty, graduating actors prepare the showcase production - usually a series of scenes and monologues - which is presented in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles for casting directors, talent agents, producers and directors from theatre, film and television. The Graduate Showcase also includes a series of alumni networking events in each city to introduce and connect our graduates to our large alumni network.

John C. Reilly, DePaul alumnus

John C. Reilly, BFA Acting ’87

Academy Award Nominee, Chicago

Tony Award Nominee, True West

“When people say to me, ‘I want to be an actor,’ I tell them, go to Chicago.”